Editor’s note: Allan Maurer’s BioWatch column is a regular feature on Fridays.A Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) survey that says 144 companies nationally are developing 371 new biotechnology medicines reveals several things about the Research Triangle’s biotech industry.

One: GlaxoSmithKline truly is dominant.

Two: RTP and North Carolina are far down the list in drug development.

Three: GSK isn’t only RTP firm with late-stage drugs under development.

PhRMA’s survey says the new medicines, all either in clinical trials or awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, include 178 targeting cancers, 47 for infectious diseases, 26 for autoimmune diseases, 22 for neurological disorders and 21 for HIV/AIDS.

“These medicines are the result of extensive efforts to understand the human genome and penetrate the molecular basis of disease,” says PhRMA president Alan F. Holmer. “Many attack or prevent disease in fundamentally different ways.”

GlaxoSmithKline clearly dominates drug development in the Triangle, having a hand in more than 20 of 30 in clinical trials that have Triangle connections. GSK and its various drug development partners are testing vaccines to treat H.I.V., two types of hepatitis, malaria, colorectal, pancreatic and lung cancers, treatments for stroke and asthma, among others.

London-based GSK has dual U.S. headquarters, one in the Triangle, one in Philadelphia.

A distant fifth

While North Carolina ranks among the top five states in the number of biotech companies resident, it is, as Sam Taylor, president of NC BIO, state arm of the national industry lobbying group, says, “a distant fifth.”

Scroll through the 371 drugs listed in the PhRMA survey and you’ll roll by a page of California, Massachusetts and Maryland firms between each Triangle firm with drugs in trials. Companies in Pennsylvania, New York, Texas and Virginia also make a respectable showing.

According to the survey, Triangle area companies have about 30 of the 371 total surveyed, a respectable showing.

Among the Triangle’s homegrown biotech companies, Trimeris (Nasdaq: TRMS) has the highest profile drug about to launch.

Trimeris is preparing to market Fuzeon, its first of a new type of treatment for AIDS. Fuzeon, which performed very well in late stage clinical trials, is expected to FDA approval as early as March next year.

Investors like late stage drugs

At a biotech event earlier this year, Max Wallace, president and chief executive of struggling Cogent Neuroscience, said the region needs one of its companies to “hit one out of the park,” and that Trimeris may do that with Fuzeon. Trimeris has other drugs working on the same principle of preventing H.I.V. from entering cells, in its pipeline.

Trimeris investors certainly seem to think it’s about to hit the big time. They ponied up an additional $102.4 million buying 2.4 million common shares at a price of $45.25. It’s worth noting that raising more than $100 million in the current economic climate shows that investors prefer biotech companies with drugs close to market.

Many of Trimeris’ major institutional shareholders kicked in significant amounts of new cash to help the company market the new drug.

Other Triangle companies with drugs in late stage development include Raleigh-based Salix (Nasdaq: SLXP), with its treatment for traveler’s diarrhea in Phase III testing, and Durham-based Curacyte, which has a treatment for nitric oxide shock prevention in Phase III trials.

You can find entire list here (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader): www.phrma.org/publications/publications//2002-10-21.601.pdf

Delays for GSK counter to Viagra?

One of GSK’s most commercially promising products, a treatment for erectile disfunction called Levitra, may be delayed because Pfizer, maker of the very popular male impotence pill Viagra, says it infringes its patent. GSK executives say they do not expect the suit to succeed but admit it may delay marketing the new drug.

Pfizer recently received a patent not only on Viagra’s specific formulation, but also its method of action. The company lost a similar patent infringement suit in Europe.

The suit and other concerns caused a 5 percent drop in GSK’s stock-like American depository receipts Wednesday, although the company reported $7.7 billion in revenue in the third quarter, up six percent.

Phrma industry site: www.phrma.org